At Work

Telling the boss he is wrong: Career suicide or fast lane to promotion?

Most of us baulk at the idea of indicating, even in the slightest manner, that the boss is anything but god-like in his decisions and ideas.

“Let’s do X merger” “Yes, boss!”

“I think the sky is green today” “Yes, boss!”

People who do nothing but agree sycophantically are scorned as ‘yes’ men, but is the alternative even possible? We’ve all felt the pressure to stay in the boss’ good books, and one of the easiest steps seems to be to agree with said boss. Right?


Stating a fact or airing an opinion that contradicts your boss is not necessarily career suicide. In fact, doing so may show that you have courage as well as a working brain, both of which are positive characteristics that may work well in your favour when it comes to your annual appraisal! That said, you are not advised to embarrass your boss or openly cause dissent, because that would be unprofessional and can come off as petty or vicious. Here are 5 easy steps you could take to make your point or stand without ruffling any feathers.

It doesn't always have to be the boss' way or the highway It doesn't always have to be the boss' way or the highway

1. Above and beyond everything else, remember that your boss is still your boss. That means respecting his or her authority; so watch that tone. It’s important to phrase your points carefully, eg: “I understand your point, but…” Avoid, at all costs, saying things like “This is MY area of expertise,” as it will automatically make your boss go on defensive mode and may lead to sparring matches from which you will definitely emerge the loser.

2. Be professional. You want to be heard and not shut out immediately, so avoid whining or taking things to a personal level. Do say things like “X way will save the company up to RM Y” and avoid saying things like “My way is better.” The best way to get your boss’ attention is to show that your point is being made with the company’s best interests at heart.

3. Set a proper time for the discussion. One good way to ensure that your points are heard is to plan your timing well. Arrange a time that is convenient for your boss as well as yourself, by asking either verbally or through writing – via email would be a good option, so your politesse is recorded. You will find that with proper timing comes better results! After all, you wouldn’t like it either if you were ambushed on your way to the car park with criticisms or complaints so don’t inflict it on others.

4. Don’t give up after one try. Nobody will change their opinions overnight, so just one great presentation may not be enough to turn your boss’ frown upside down. But that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and call it quits: If you truly feel that your idea is a fantastic one, persist in trying to pitch your idea. But be pleasant about it! Try saying “I took your previous comments into consideration, and have revised the plan some more. Could I have 5 minutes of your time to show you the amended copy?”

5. That said, you also need to know when to let it go. While you shouldn’t give up after one try, 10 tries is just too much. If you sense your boss is starting to avoid you, or worse, resent you then it’s time to step back gracefully. And by gracefully, we mean avoiding statements like “I’m invisible around here,” and “Nobody listens to employees.” Try statements like “Thank you for your consideration” or “Thanks for listening to my views” instead; and if you know what’s good for you, never climb over your boss’ head and approach his boss instead! The bottom line is, it is possible to have your own opinions and stands. Bosses are not (usually) totalitarian dictators, so a mature discussion about the best move for the company should be perfectly doable.

Good luck!